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1993 - PMQT 2nd March 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 2nd March 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Oppenheim : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 March.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Oppenheim : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the more power that we can extend to individuals by devolving authority and decision making in our schools and the national health service, the better? Is not the best way to give individuals more responsibility and more control over their lives by reducing the power of the state? Is it the case that, on this crucial test, those who belatedly speak the language of conservatism but still think like socialists, such as the Leader of the Opposition, fail dismally?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is absolutely right in his description. We believe in giving individuals more choice and more power. I fear that that is not the policy of the Labour party. Labour Members want less choice and more government, rather than more choice and less power for government.

Mr. John Smith : In that case, can the Prime Minister tell us why he is opposed to a freedom of information Act?

The Prime Minister : Because we are extending freedom of information in practical ways--unlike the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who would not give information to parents about schools or to users of the health service about hospitals. That is the sort of information which people in the country want, not the sort of information that the right hon. and learned Gentleman concerns himself about.

Mr. John Smith : If the Prime Minister is genuinely committed to giving information and to open government, can I give him a simple test? How many billions of pounds were lost in the currency dealings in the fiasco of Black Wednesday?

The Prime Minister : As a former shadow Chancellor, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not know that no one knows what the figures will be until those things are unwound, he should not be sitting where he is.

Mr. John Smith : Is not it abundantly clear that the Prime Minister either does not know how many billions of pounds were lost or is unwilling to tell us? Does not he understand that there is a crucial difference between the national interest and covering up the incompetence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

The Prime Minister : We are dealing with the national interest day after day, with no assistance whatever from the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Rev. Ian Paisley : Could the Prime Minister give to the greater number of people in Northern Ireland an assurance that the envoy from President Clinton to which he has agreed will not hold talks with the IRA, Sinn Fein or any other terrorist organisation?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman had better wait and see what announcement is made about the fact finder who I believe may come from the United States to Northern Ireland. Many distinguished people from the United States have been there in the past. Many of them have gone back with great enthusiasm for the changes that they have found in Northern Ireland and the great desire among the people of Northern Ireland for a lasting peace.


Q2. Mr. Pike : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 March.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Pike : After 14 years of Tory government, the unemployed and low paid in my constituency are sick of hearing the Prime Minister saying why we cannot have the social chapter in Britain. Can he tell the people of Britain why France, Germany and all the other countries in Europe can have the social chapter but Britain cannot? Are we a second-class Britain as a result of 14 years of Tory rule?

The Prime Minister : It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman does not know his own constituency better, for he would know that unemployment there has fallen 16 per cent. since 1987. He may also have noticed the trend in unemployment in France and Germany.

Mr. Alan Howarth : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the citizens charter, which very properly enhances the rights of the citizen, should be complemented by a renewed emphasis on the obligations of the citizen, so that we foster and strengthen mutual responsibility in our society? Will he therefore look systematically to identify and eliminate obstacles that at present discourage voluntary work and charitable activity, including aspects of eligibility for both unemployment benefit and invalidity benefit as well as aspects of the council tax and VAT regimes?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, we have done a great deal to improve the quantity and quality of voluntary work in this country. I am happy to examine any practical suggestions to improve it even further.


Q3. Mr. Nigel Jones : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 March.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Nigel Jones : May I offer the Prime Minister the chance to welcome Chelsea's long-awaited victory last night after a change of manager? Does he now understand why millions of unemployed people in Britain would welcome a change of manager of the economy?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman may have spent some time rehearsing that. It was not time well spent. Perhaps he needs a training course.

Mr. Nigel Evans : Has my right hon. Friend had time to see the recent "Small Business Bulletin" from Barclays bank, which shows that there was a 19 per cent. increase in the number of small businesses in Britain in the last quarter of 1992 as compared with the last quarter of 1991? This is good news-- [Interruption.] I know that Opposition Members do not want to hear it, but it is good news. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it shows the resilience of the small business sector in Britain? When he next has a word with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will he encourage him to introduce on 16 March a small business- friendly Budget which will help our small businesses?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right about the importance of the small business sector both to the economy generally and in terms of job creation. I will certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.


Q4. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 March.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Skinner : Does not the Prime Minister realise that after 14 years he stands condemned about the seedy state of Britain today? Pensioners have a job to live ; they do not have two ha'pennies to rub together. The banks rip off customers. The bosses steal the pension funds. Ministers have their debts paid by the taxpayer. Is not that the reason why the British people understand him less and condemn him more?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman must have been taking lessons from the Liberal spokesman.


Q5. Mr. Duncan : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 March.

The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Duncan : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most effective weapons in the armoury against crime is the right to refer to the Court of Appeal any sentence that may be considered too lenient? Does he also agree that those who voted against that in the House, including the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), have very little right to posture about crime and even less right to parade their self-righteousness up and down the country?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend makes his own point in his own way. The public rightly expect the sentence to fit the crime. The power for the Attorney-General to refer over-lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal is an important weapon in the fight against crime and one which I believe will have the warm support of people right across the country. I hope that the hon. Member for Sedgefield will change his mind. At the moment, his voting record on crime is a worse record than that of an old lag.

Mr. Redmond : Does the Prime Minister intend to keep his election promises?

The Prime Minister : All Governments intend to keep their election promises.


Q7. Mr. Paice : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 March.

The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Paice : Is not it clear that many of the young people who are committing crimes are not unemployed, because they should still be at school? In that regard, may we have a vigorous campaign against truancy, to improve education and to reduce crime?

The Prime Minister : I believe that it is necessary to do that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it perfectly clear that we need to cut down on truancy and if we are successful in doing that, we are likely to cut down on juvenile crime. That is why in future, against the opposition Labour Members, we propose to include information on truancy rates when we publish how schools are performing. It is vital information for parents and vital information against crime and it would be helpful if the Opposition would support us in that policy.

Mr. Gordon Prentice : Does the Prime Minister agree that the revelation that the Director General of the BBC has been avoiding tax on a massive scale leaves a very nasty taste in the month? Does he further agree that John Birt should pay back to the Inland Revenue all the tax avoided in his period as deputy director general?

The Prime Minister : Although I am familiar with the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers, it is a matter for the Director General of the BBC and the Inland Revenue.


Q8. Mr. Shepherd : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 March.

The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Colin Shepherd : Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity over the weekend to reflect on the revealing remarks of Professor Halsey on the way in which the schools were hijacked in the 1960s and 1970s by the trendy lefties? Is not it clear that now that those pupils who had been hijacked are parents, they are unable to give their families the moral base to know what is right and wrong today? Will he not be deflected from his path?

The Prime Minister : I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. I believe that Professor Halsey now speaks for the views of parents, whereas he certainly did not in the 1960s. The view of the overwhelming number of parents is that the fashionable theories of the 1960s did immense damage to the quality of education in this country.


Q9. Mr. Soley : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 March.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Soley : Can the Prime Minister tell me whether it is his policy to achieve full employment?

The Prime Minister : Every Prime Minister wishes to achieve full employment.

Dr. Liam Fox : Does my right hon. Friend agree that if discipline is not instilled at home it cannot be reinforced in schools and then enforced in society? Do not the people of this country have a right to expect the courts to be tough on parents who refuse to apply discipline to their children?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. It is necessary to take firm action with that relatively small number of young people who are persistent offenders. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will have something to say about that shortly.

Miss Lestor : Will the Prime Minister take time today to visit one of the nursery schools in my constituency, or in some other constituency, to remind himself that it is 21 years since a previous Tory Government gave a commitment to nursery education for all four-year-olds? Does he agree that that promise, far from being fulfilled, is now rapidly being forgotten? If he is really concerned about family life in this country, he will ensure that deprivation and other family difficulties are identified by having children under expert eyes at a very early age? Does he agree that, by his meanness in nursery education, he is depriving hundreds of young children of educational opportunities and of care and attention?

The Prime Minister : I know that the hon. Lady takes a great interest in this matter. That being the case, she will know that there are more rising fives--four-year-olds--going to school in this country than in any other European country. We have a different pattern of provision, by which our youngsters are brought into school earlier. Notwithstanding that fact, there has been a significant increase in nursery provision.